Clemson, if you can find the tiny South Carolina hamlet on a map, is where you want to be.
Not for the fishing or the climate or the endless fountain of Dabo Swinneyspeak that bubbles out of the ground like a babbling hot spring, but because it is on top. On top of the college football world after winning last year’s national championship and the one two years before that.
But the peak is a precarious place. It’s hard to stay for very long. That’s one reason why Swinney has had to try to invent slights and obstacles for his Tigers to overcome. First-world problems, certainly, but when you’re packing the nation’s longest-active winning streak (29 games) in the equipment trailer to haul down to New Orleans for Monday’s CFP title game with LSU, it becomes burdensome.
LSU is not weighted down by such baggage. These Tigers may be the favorite in Vegas (still a 5-point choice), but they are the interloper trying to knock the king off his Appalachian foothill (if you check out a map of where Clemson is you’ll see that geographic reference is spot on).
But LSU isn’t there yet. Right now, this is in some ways the sweetest spot in which to be.
Oh yes, you want to lift that trophy Monday night in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and get covered in confetti. But the moment it all lands and everyone leaves the field and the cleaning crew comes in, everything you did to get to that point is a was. It’s in the past. And every second after that ticks by comes the realization that you have to go out and try to do it again next year.
“It’s not the destination,” Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “it’s the journey.” And where LSU is right now, near the summit with a view back to an amazing season of accomplishment, is almost the place where you want to stop and plant a homestead.
Especially when you consider what a revolutionary season this has been for LSU. This coaching staff, this team, not only strung together 14 impressive victories against no defeats. They changed the culture of an entire program. A program that looked forever mired in the past, at least offensively. And offense means all in modern college football. Just look at the stats of the four teams that made this season’s College Football Playoff.
“Adapt or die” is another famous quote. LSU football was in no danger of dying if it didn’t adapt. But it wasn’t going to flourish as a national contender, either. Not like Alabama. Or Ohio State. Or, certainly, Clemson, which to date has been the poster child for adapting to the modern game. It has been rewarded with a run of success — an amazing 69-4 over the past five seasons — that any school would covet.
Ed Orgeron triggered a bold change and was rewarded handsomely. Wins piled upon wins, record after record fell, and the Heisman Trophy landed in the hands of an LSU player, Joe Burrow, for the first time in six decades.
I won’t try to dissuade any LSU fan from feeling crushed if their Tigers aren’t the ones celebrating Monday night. The wounds of another undefeated season that the engine dropped out of in the Superdome eight years ago are too fresh.
But if you make the ride down I-10 for the game or just to be part of the party, tick away the minutes and the miles with a few of the memories LSU made this season.
What a journey indeed, Mr. Emerson.
The Zachary Evans saga
Amid all the clamor and helium surrounding this championship game comes the realization that once it’s over, the final episode of the 2019-20 recruiting cycle will be just over three weeks away.
Say hello to Zachary Evans.
The nation’s No. 1-rated running back prospect out of Houston North Shore High School apparently signed with Georgia in December. But Tuesday, multiple news outlets reported Georgia gave Evans an unconditional release from his national letter of intent, making him free to go play anywhere this fall.
LSU and Texas A&M are reportedly the top contenders to land Evans. The question is should LSU or A&M, really want him? Evans was sent home before his team played for a Texas state championship (and won without him), and now all this business with signing with Georgia then backing out.
Evans pleaded for understanding in an interview during the Under Armour game:
"First and foremost, I just want to apologize to my college coaches, for everything they are hearing," Evans said. "I am really a good kid. I came in and learned from some former professionals. I made some stupid decisions and I am ready to compete at the next level."
Making things even more worrisome for LSU or other schools is NCAA recruiting rules prohibit Evans from signing another NLI. He will basically have to be trusted to show up and enroll in school.
Evans deserves a second chance. It’s worth remembering these are kids, and sometimes they make bad decisions or take the wrong advice. A show of hands for those out there who made regrettable choices at 17 or 18. Thought so.
There have been plenty of athletes who have demonstrated all the common sense of a toasted sesame seed bagel (picture a zero) in high school who wised up in college. There have also been lots of athletes who you had no idea would be a problem entering college only to turn into Mr. Hyde once they set foot on campus.
So he is worth the risk for LSU, which at the moment has to be anticipating that All-SEC tailback Clyde Edwards-Helaire will opt for this year’s NFL draft and which did not sign a running back in December? Of course. Prudence demands it, just like it demands LSU continue to recruit other highly regarded uncommitted backs as is apparently the case.
If you sign a player with red flags like Evans and he continues to be a problem, well, there’s always the next recruiting cycle. But here and now, if you’re LSU or A&M or whoever, you take the chance.